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Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, Part 5

Editor's Note: This is the Part 5 of a multi-article series on the Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, held at Western New Mexico University on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Community groups presented their needs and concerns to New Mexico Reps. Dianne Hamilton and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales.

Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, presented the county's projects and priorities to the legislators.

"The renovations to the Business and Conference Center are going along well," Gutierrez said. "We have a federal appropriation for the façade, roof, parking lot improvements and for the Corre Caminos Transit addition on the east side.

"We have been working with local governments doing cooperative agreements for improvements around the county," he continued. "The hospital bonds have been approved. We are working on site development for an industrial park, and are presently looking at sites—one near Hurley, one near Santa Clara and one near the airport."

He said water issues are a concern in the Gila Valley because of an upgrade from threatened to endangered of two fish species.

"I am a team member of the Fish and Wildlife Services for area designations," Gutierrez said. "The designations, such as this of the species and the expansion of critical habitat put burdens on water users."

"We are supporting anything that can be done at Fort Bayard for economic development," he said. "Grant County has completed a brownfields assessment grant application with the Environmental Protection Agency to assist with remediation of asbestos and lead."

He listed the capital outlay requests.

"Our first priority is for the fair barns, which were extensively damaged by wind," Gutierrez said. "We are working with the Fair Board. Next Tuesday we should have the final recommendation. We are requesting $500,000. Grant County will borrow from the New Mexico Finance Authority about $800,000 to $1 million for the project. We are asking for $500,000 to help pay back the loan.

"The competitiveness and diligence of the students makes them leaders in the community, so we have to keep the fair in Grant County," Gutierrez continued. "We are also requesting an appropriation for the Administration Center. We moved the Sheriff's Department into the building, and they need a vault for evidence storage. We also want to make the entrance more accessible and ADA-compliant."

Hamilton opined that everything on the list is necessary. "I'm wondering about Ace Hardware. Will it move out or stay in the business and conference center?"

"Grant County wants to continue the lease, as far as I know," Gutierrez said.

"Right now, you are just renovating the façade?" Hamilton asked, to which Gutierrez said yes, in addition to heating/ventilation/air-conditioning work and improvements to the parking lot.

Martinez asked about progress on the lift station at Fort Bayard Medical Center.

"We met with engineers, and the appropriation is not large enough, so we are looking at ways to reduce costs to where we can afford it," Gutierrez said. "We've been working on the brownfields grant application, so we want a meeting with Engineers Inc. next week."

Martinez asked that the information be relayed to the legislators.

"W e would need $108,000 additional to complete the estimate we have right now," Gutierrez said.

Martinez said he was glad to see the county being proactive. "The amount I have from the Fair Board is different from what you said. Maybe you can use additional funding, perhaps from the Congressional delegation. I support the fair barn and the brownfields application, in addition to requesting $5 million to demolish the old Fort Bayard hospital to make way for economic development."

Morales suggested minor adjustments to the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan. "Do any of the top five have other funding opportunities?"

"The top two require state funding, because the fair barn needs to be repaired before the fall fair," Gutierrez said. "The industrial park will look at economic development funding. The Interstate Stream Commission is doing feasibility studies on whether the water project can be funded using Arizona Water Settlements Act, if it is a viable project."

Morales clarified that the county was looking at an NMFA loan for the fair barn and then legislative funding to pay it back.

Gutierrez said the project would need to begin in January or February, pending the loan.

Morales asked if the first payment could be put off until legislative funding is available.

"I don't know," Gutierrez said, "but we can pay through the General Fund. I think NMFA can set up payments."

Morales asked if the county audits were complete.

"They will all be done by Dec. 31," Gutierrez said.

"What about the conference center?" Morales asked.

Gutierrez explained that the exterior improvements were required by the EDA grant, so the building would look like a conference center.

Morales asked if there were any plans for the back of the building.

"A lot of economic development prospects are interested," Gutierrez said.

"We need to look at quality of life issues," Morales said. "I am aware that, in January, the movie theater will close down. Maybe we can use the back part of the building for a theater. We are in preliminary discussions. I think it would be a beneficial use of the space."

"We have also looked at the space for sale near the conference center to utilize for a theater," Gutierrez said. "We are talking to Deming about the good, bad and the ugly of a theater, and whether it should be leased out to a company or managed by the county."

The next article will cover the Silver City presentation.

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